Cape Town - The window of opportunity to deal with the crisis of poverty and inequality will not last forever, UCT acting Pro-Vice Chancellor Francis Wilson warned on Monday.

Addressing the Cape Town Press Club before a major conference on poverty alleviation at UCT next week, Wilson said urgent action was needed to turn “the big ship” of poverty around.

“Nearly 20 years after democracy, we haven’t done a lot about either widespread poverty or deep inequality. Income inequality has got worse, not better. The debate in South Africa seems to revolve around who is going to be the next president, and not the pressing issues facing the country,” Wilson said. “What matters now is action and it is urgent.”

UCT Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price, told the press club, that SA could expect “Arab Spring” uprisings if it did not address the crisis.

Price said particular attention must be paid to young black males, who comprised “a boiling cauldron” of discontent.

Wilson, who was founding director of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at UCT, said universities had an important role to play in tackling the challenge of poverty and inequality.

He said the National Planning Commission, under National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, had asked UCT to “do some serious thinking about strategies to overcome poverty and inequality”.

“We have been working very hard to bring together academics from 19 universities around the country, who have submitted well over 300 papers. In addition, we have gone out of our way to draw in some of the very good NGOs that are working at the coalface of education, rural development, health and a number of other sectors to share what they are doing.”

Manuel will open the conference, which is entitled “Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality: Towards Carnegie III”.

Political Bureau